‘You’re a living, breathing cliché, Andy lad. Taking a fucking fall, I don’t know how you can do it and I don’t want any fucking part of it.’
Cooky paced from wall-to-wall of the boxy locker room. Moments before he’d been taping up Andy O’Connell’s hands ready for 10 Oz. gloves to be laced over the top – a job that had gone unfinished. When O’Connell had whispered to Cooky that it might be worth getting someone to put a bit of cash on him to lose in the second, Cooky had bolted from his stool like he’d been zapped with a cattle prod.
‘You don’t say no to Tony Ricco, Cooky.’
O’Connell was stood at his full terrifying height and held his hands palms up pleading for understanding from his trainer.
‘And that’s exactly why I told you to stay away from Ricco. I told you, he’s not throwing money at you out of the goodness of his heart, one day he’s going to want something in return – looks like it’s today. Well I’m done.’
‘Cooky, don’t be daft mate. It’s just an undercard fight in a shitty nightclub on a Tuesday evening. No one cares about this shit.’
‘Don’t you get it? That’s why I’m pissed at you! You’re a good fighter, Andy. You’ve got what it takes to go a long way. You start taking dives now you’re never going to get out from under the Tuesday night undercard fights in shitholes.’
Andy looked to the door and caught the eye of the bouncer.
‘Do us a favour, mate, give us a minute.’
The bouncer nodded acknowledgement and pulled the door shut.
‘Look, Cooky, I’m 19-years-old. I’ve got time. No one is going to remember that I took a dive next month let alone in a years time.’
‘Have you got shit between your ears? You don’t think Ricco is going to let you take one dive and walk away, do you? You’re an idiot boy!’
‘Tony knows how far I can go, he’s told me. He reckons if I take a dive on this one, he’ll fund me to the top. He’s not going to let me waste my talent, he’s said as much. He can get any old chump to take a fall for him, he just needs me to do it this once.’
‘Bollocks lad, Tony isn’t going to let you off the leash now. And no, he can’t get any old chump to take a fall for him. He needs a decent boxer. Firstly, because it helps with the odds and secondly, if he throws a chump in there’s no guarantee they’re going to last to the required round. Yeah, Tony might throw a bit of cash your way for training, but he doesn’t want you going too far, not somewhere where he has to lose control and there are more powerful men than him calling the shots.’
Cooky had stopped pacing as he made his passion-fueled statements to the younger man. It was Andy’s turn to pace. The aggression that he usually channeled so effectively in the ring showed on his face.
‘You’re such a hypocrite, Cooky. You’ve been around the scene since before I was born. You trying to tell me you never took a fall? Look at that fucking nose, you didn’t get that not getting punched in the face.’
‘I earned this nose, I never took a fall in my life. Yeah, I took a lot of beatings. I didn’t have half the talent you got but I stayed on my feet until I absolutely couldn’t every fucking time I entered the ring. Don’t you ever fucking insult me like that again. After all I’ve done for you.’
Cooky didn’t look angry. He was hurt.
‘I’m sorry, Cook. Look I can’t back out of this one, but I promise, this will be it. I’ll tell Tony, no more after today, OK?’
‘No, it’s not OK, but what can you do, this is Tony Ricco we’re talking about.’
‘So you’ll corner for me?’
‘No, I can’t do it, lad. I’ll get you prepped, but I’ll be waiting in here.’
Both resigned to what was happening Cooky and Andy resumed the positions they’d been in prior to Andy’s revelation. Cooky finished taping up Andy’s hands and fixed the gloves in place. The ritual was completed in silence. Cooky opened the door, the bouncer was still there.
‘Wish me luck.’ Andy quipped as he danced on light feet from the changing room. The quip was aimed at lightening the mood but Cooky saw no humour in it. He shut the door without comment.
The jeers could still be heard as Andy made his way back to his changing room. His opponent had been poor and as the third minute of the second round approached Andy had had to leave himself open to a punch. The punch was poor, the dive was obvious and no one was convinced. Andy had hardly heard the ref’s count over the booing. He’d closed his eyes and waited for the 10 – he’d been too ashamed to open them. As he lay on the canvas he’d pictured Cooky ranting at him. He’d silently vowed to keep his promise, that would be the one and only time he’d take a dive.
The bouncer from earlier pushed open the door to the changing room and Andy hung his head as he entered, not wanting to meet Cooky’s eyes. But meeting Cooky’s eyes wasn’t an option. Cooky lay face down in his own blood on the concrete floor.
Andy scooped to speak, more in hope than expectation.
‘Cooky, you alright, mate?’
Before he could properly balance himself Andy was bundled against the back wall of the locker room. The bouncer from the door had been joined by another. They pinned the 200lb boxer. He struggled against them but it was futile. From the doorway the voice of Tony Ricco cut through the struggle.
‘I hear Cooky here had talked you out of taking any more falls. I couldn’t have that, lad. I made good money on you tonight and I plan to again.’
‘Fuck you, Tony. I’ll fucking kill you, you think I’ll fight for you again? You’re off your head.’
Tony’s voice came closer. Andy felt a meaty hand restrain his head tight against the wall to stop him butting Ricco as the gangster’s spittle punctuated the menace in his tone.
‘Not only will you fight for me again, lad. You’ll win and lose as I choose every time you step into the ring. Or, you’ll be picking up pieces of that pretty girl of yours and the rest of your loved ones for the rest of the year.’
The hand on the back of Andy’s neck let the pressure off and then instantly smashed his head into the wall. Andy’s world went black.
Ricco barked instructions.
‘Wait ‘til everyone’s out and then get rid of Cooky. Lock the kid in here for a couple of days to think things through.’